"I want to be a leader who can cause positive change in the lives of as many people as possible."
- Oumou Ly '13
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When Thomas Wolfe said, "you can't go home again," he was not thinking of Jorge Guzman. Guzman, who graduated from NDNU with a degree in Psychology with a minor in Sociology in 2007 and a Master of Science in Clinical Psychology, MFT in 2010, has spent the last several years working in his hometown of Pescadero, CA as an alcohol and drug prevention specialist and clinical psychotherapist. Much of his work at the Puente Resource Center, a nonprofit agency that is funded by private donors and grants, is with Latino families and youth. "Even though Pescadero is a small community, we're not immune to problems like gangs, drugs and violence," says Guzman. He adds that part of his job is to "remind people that it's OK to dream because those dreams can become reality."
Guzman's "social justice approach" to his work was honed by his experiences at NDNU, where he participated in community engagement projects in places such as East Palo Alto under the direction of teachers like Professor Gretchen Wehrle, and later with San Mateo County mental health agencies. His leadership skills were developed through working with Rich Watters on the orientation team, experiences that he remembers as "amazing,"which would be an apt description of his work today.
How does one accidentally graduate high school early?
Ask Oumou Bandel Ly, a 17-year-old sophomore, who finds herself on the fast-track to an NDNU degree in Political Science, with minors in English and dance.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Oumou, who came to NDNU at the tender age of 16, was enrolled in a charter school in the East Bay, taking some courses at a local community college. Oumou found out when meeting to schedule her classes for her senior year that she was, in fact, no longer a senior, but had inadvertently graduated without realizing she had done so.
“Did you know that taking a semester of any given subject satisfies a year of the high school requirement?” asks Oumou. “I ended up graduating high school when I was 16, a year earlier than I had initially anticipated.”
Oumou chose NDNU partly because it was close to home, but also because of its educational mission.
“I want to be a leader who can cause positive change in the lives of as many people as possible. I believe that I can only effect this change by first building character, and I feel blessed to attend a university founded in the Catholic mission of service and leadership. I feel that NDNU is a place where this type of cultivation is encouraged and made possible.”
One of the things Oumou likes most about the university includes the ease of communication with others coupled with the small class sizes. Knowing many of the students and faculty add to the enrichment of her experience.
Among her favorite professors, Oumou numbers Dr. Ali Ferdowsi, Dr. Vince Fitzgerald and Dr. Steven Cole. She says all three "possess a charisma, interest and way of teaching that elicits intellectual and spiritual growth in me personally.”
Oumou is also an incredibly talented dancer, which has earned her significant recognition at NDNU, where she has participated in and choreographed several dance shows. Oumou has been dancing for ten years. At age fourteen, she began taking ballet and part of her core dance curriculum for a youth professional company she auditioned for. She favors African, ballet and modern dance as her passions, often fusing styles in her choreography.
“Being able to choreograph dances and have them brought to life and performed on a stage where everyone in attendance has to watch and understand the story is a priceless privilege offered through the dance department. It's one of my biggest passions and grateful to be here to do it,” says Oumou.
We will never understand how someone who loves people so much – to interact with them, to help them, to engage hem – could be so shy. But for Neal Pascua, shyness is what pushed him to be such an active member of the NDNU community. “I’m shy initially,” says the musical theatre major from Fairfield, California, “so I decided I had to push my limits. I became an RA (resident advisor) to force myself to open up to people I wouldn’t normally interact with.”
When Neal came to NDNU, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life, but he was certain it had to do something with people. Now as a senior, his life is all about people. As a singer, he entertains them. As a student leader, he helps them. And this year as student body president, he empowers them.
“NDNU sent me to the LeaderSHAPE retreat, and I grew so much in a week,” says Neal. “I came back wanting to create a change on campus, and to inspire the students to get involved.”
He’s done that already as president of Isang Lahi, the Filipino club, which he reinstated as a sophomore. The club has held two Senior Citizen Proms at a local nursing home, an idea Neal posed to the club based on a similar event he had participated in during high school. It gives people young and old a chance to interact, dancing (or doing donuts in a wheelchair) the night away.
But Neal’s activities don’t stop there. A talented singer who has appeared in numerous NDNU productions, Neal pushed his limits again and landed a part in the first regional production of Hairspray in the Bay Area. The whole show came together in four weeks! “It was a fast-paced process with all this choreography and music thrown in your face, but the show is so fun,” says Neal. “I met a lot of great people, and it was a mix of professional and amateur actors, so it was awesome to work with all of them.”
Neal’s willingness to break out of his shy shell and embrace the NDNU community is all wound up in one bit of advice.
“It’s a small school. What you put into it is what you get out of it, so go BIG!”
“I am currently [October 2010] rehearsing Cyrano de Bergerac at the SF Opera playing Montfleury opposite Plácido Domingo. It's a speaking role but a delicious one at that. This has been the most rewarding experience of my young career. Playing Montfleury is probably the most fun I have ever had onstage (next to King Herod in Superstar). I think the fact that I get to fly on a chariot gives him the edge over Herod.”
“Mr. Domingo's opening remark to us was one I will never forget: ‘You are all doing a great job, now I am here to spoil it.’ The room filled with laughter and I immediately knew that this man I have idolized since I was a child, was a great guy. During rehearsal, he was a few feet from me and smiled so I got off my chair and introduced myself in Spanish. He was very nice and his warm smile truly touched my heart as we continued the rehearsal. There was so much thrown at him: the staging, sword fighting, text, music. After a while, I had this amazing revelation that this man is just like me: a performer. This very human connection gave me so much more respect for the man. Every now and then he would sing full out and chills went through my arms as I listened to him sing.”
“This rehearsal process has really made me appreciate my time at NDNU and I just had to tell you about it. We had our first sitzprobe [orchestra rehearsal with singers]. The sound of the 65 piece orchestra was an experience in itself. My lines come directly after the opera chorus sings various parts. It's really easy when they are around. Today, at sitzprobe number two they were not present and our guest conductor Jordi Bernacer (filling in for Maestro Patrick Fournillier) was at the baton. Thank goodness I had my score with me and thank goodness I learned my rhythms and music in school. Without this knowledge I would have made a fool of myself trying to figure out when in the music my lines are spoken. It made me so grateful - I salute you all!”
If Barbara Morgan hadn't wandered into the Stanford Bookstore and stumbled upon a book on learning theory by Maria Montessori, she may have never attended NDNU (then CND) for her teaching credential, which ultimately led to her becoming the first teacher in space. After reading that book, she "wanted to learn more, and what better place than in a teacher education program. And there was College of Notre Dame, right up the road. It was a wonderful experience—the start of my whole career."
The rest, as they say, is history. Morgan spent her first year teaching on the Flathead Indian reservation in Arlee, Montana. From 1975 to 1998 she taught second, third, and fourth grades at McCall-Donnelly Elementary School with time out for a year of teaching in Ecuador in 1978-79 and training as Christa McAuliffe’s backup for the ill-fated Challenger flight in 1986. In 1998 Morgan was selected by NASA as a mission specialist and became a full-time astronaut. It would be five more years before she would be named to the crew of a space shuttle and another four before she would finally fly.
Morgan operated the robotic arm on the August 2007 Endeavor flight. “The work was challenging and fun,” she says. “In many ways it’s like teaching. It’s very complex work, dealing with complex issues and working with people who have very complex minds. It’s a natural place for a teacher.”
Morgan didn’t get to teach an actual lesson from space, although she and several of her crewmates did field questions from children in the U.S. But there was an educational piece to the mission. “We took up 10 million basil seeds and will be distributing them to classrooms all over the country.” The seeds will be made available to classes from kindergarten through high school, and the challenge is to help NASA find ways to grow food in an artificial environment such as it might have to create on the moon or Mars.
Asked what she would teach now that she’s been into space, if she were standing before a class, Morgan replies: “Well, first of all I wouldn’t be standing. I’d be sitting on the floor with the kids. I’ve always tried to instill two main ideas into my classes. First, we’re a family, a family of learners, and we’re going to work hard and work together to learn. Second, always keep the doors open. Opportunity is going to come and knock when you least expect it.” Which sums up Barbara Morgan’s life pretty well.